Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Future of Distance Learning

I was recently asked to share my thoughts on the future of distance learning, and I’m struggling to be original about the topic. It seems self-evident that the future of distance learning is expansive and inclusive and ever-so-much-more-so. Distance learning has burgeoned far beyond the realm of training for medical transcription and is ubiquitous in corporate settings, higher education, and K-12 education. But the real driver is not just that more people are learning at a distance; it’s that more people are recognizing distance education as a viable alternative to traditional F2F learning. The quality of distance learning coupled with the broad availability of emerging technologies have transformed distance learning from a fall-back, Plan B position to a deliberate first choice.

The growing acceptance of distance learning is fueled by a global increase in online communication. As more of us spend more time together online, engaging with more diverse groups than we ever would in person, the complications of distance matter less, and the benefits matter more, to individuals, corporations, and educational institutions (Laureate Education, Inc., 2009).

If there is a popularity ceiling for distance learning, it may be framed and fortified by distance education institutes themselves. A study by Gambescia and Paolucci (2009) found that few institutions effectively leverage their academic integrity in their promotions, relying instead on convenience and flexibility to appeal to potential students. The study didn’t reveal reasons for this, but I’ll speculate on two reasons:

  1. Convenience and flexibility are big draws for distance learning. It’s slam dunk marketing.
  2. It’s easier to leverage innate characteristics of distance learning than it is to ensure the academic integrity of distance education.
As Gambescia and Paolucci note, “to ensure a high-level of academic fidelity and integrity for online degree programs is not simply a matter of the university transferring current academic assets to the new online degree programs—throwing it over the fence, so to speak. Transferring such academic assets to online degree programs will understandably call for changes, as the inputs and outputs of online degree program offerings by design can be quite different” (Gambescia & Paolucci, 2009).

Assuming the momentum gathering around distance learning is indeed forward momentum, distance learning institutions themselves have work to do. Enrollment – ballooning. Acceptance – growing. Perceived quality – ?

More is expected of those to whom more has been given; so it is in distance learning as in other aspects of life. Those of us who are distance learners or work in distance learning are uniquely positioned to cultivate positive impressions of distance learning. We do this best by doing well in our endeavors and demonstrating the high standards of distance education today.

Sally Bacchetta


Gambescia, S., & Paolucci, R. (2009). Academic fidelity and integrity as attributes of university online degree program offerings. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 12(1). Retrieved from

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2010). The future of distance education [DVD]. Baltimore, MD: Author

Schmidt, E., & Gallegos, A. (2001). Distance learning: Issues and concerns of distance learners. Journal of Industrial Technology, 17(3). Retrieved from


  1. The online format for a degree doesn't cost the school anything once it's setup. This makes it a preferable option for them and it also makes it preferable for you, since you end up with the cheapest degree that you can find. Read this for more details.

  2. Distance learning have a shining and growing future in India also with all over the world because every working candidates are the needy of this education system.
    Distance MBA